Editor's Note: The book debuts in September, just in time for the second annual Dr. Kenneth & Caroline McDonald Eng Foundation research symposium, set for Sept. 18-19 in San Antonio, TX. Click here for more information on the book and the conference.

Chapter 22 – Ranching in New Mexico

The ranch I bought in New Mexico was approximately 70,000 acres located in Sierra County next to the Gila National Forest. It bordered two small towns—one was Winston with a population of about 40; the other was Chloride, which was an old silver mining ghost town with a population of about 25. As the crow flies, it was about 170 miles southwest of Albuquerque or 170 northwest of El Paso and about 40 miles west of Truth or Consequences (T or C).

As you may know, T or C got its name from the TV show by that name which was hosted by Ralph Edwards. Ralph Edwards offered to do a show in any city in the U.S. that would change their name to Truth or Consequences. They did and he did. In fact, he continued to visit the area every year for another 40 years until his death.

The forest lease was estimated at 36,000 acres, although no one was certain. As an indication of how rough it was, the cow permit was for 243 head (4 cows/section). After the lions and bears got their share of the calves, they could have given it to me, and I would probably have lost money on the cows.

 

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The main industry in the area was ranching and hunting elk, mule deer, lions and bears. At one time, there was a pretty fair timber industry in the area, but the environmentalists took care of that. Additionally, there were good silver deposits and some copper. The rest was ranching, which was a combination of cows and yearlings.

Sterling and Judi Carter, who ranched nearby and had a guide service, managed my ranch for the first couple of years. I learned a lot from them but, like most newcomers, I also had to learn from my own mistakes.

I wanted to run cows and took a chance buying a herd of young Beefmaster cows from South Mississippi. Had they been Beefmaster cows from New Mexico, I’d have been okay, but these cows were big and fleshy and probably averaged 1,300 lbs. My ranch couldn’t support a cow that large. They were bred when I bought them and weaned good heavy calves. Unfortunately, that is the end of the good news because the next pregnancy check, about 40% of them were “open” (not bred). That trend continued until I pretty much liquidated my big Beefmasters and replaced them with smaller, uglier desert cows.

Our Gila Forest lease was rough and I had no desire to stock it with cows at the rate of four per acre. The best deal we had was the first two years when Sterling helped me convince the Forest Ranger that on a 243-cow permit, we should be able to increase the numbers if we put out stocker cattle and we only left them out four months of the year.

Doing that, we were able to run 1,500 head, and it worked well until that ranger retired. They then informed me that I had a cow permit, and if I wanted to run yearlings, I needed a new permit that would take at least 2-3 years to obtain. It had quit raining in the area, and I took three continuous years of non-use on the forest permit and then sold it. Now you know why I’ve always said that other than getting together with Caroline, the two happiest days of my life were when I sold my last airplane and when I sold my forest permit.

We had a couple of extra houses on the ranch, which allowed my pilot Scott and his family to move there and help us manage the place. We had a good airstrip on the top of a mesa not far from the main house, but it had mountains on two sides and a deep valley on each end. Takeoffs and landings could be thrilling. Like our California airstrip, we also found out that airstrips in isolated areas can be attractive to drug traffickers who are good for people to avoid.

I redecorated the main house that was halfway between Winston and Chloride and moved there in 1988. A footnote here: I retained an interior decorator who was talented, attractive and friendly. My advice to anyone who wants to keep their interior decorating budget under control is to hire a less attractive decorator. Regardless, I ended up with a nice house and office. I lived there part-time and the rest of the time in either Texas or California.